Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beginning Now: 'The Last Quadrant of Life'

That's me (back left) with some old high school pals
Today begins what my favorite ex-wife calls the "last quadrant of life." I doubt it will be a full quadrant because for that to happen, I'd have to live to be 100 and I'm not sure that's an appealing prospect.

In any case, though, the "last quadrant" is generally identified as "old" on the spectrum of life's phases: child, young, middle-aged, old. My friend Tommy Denton, upon turning 60, termed himself to be in "late middle age." Tom, whose optimism doesn't exist when discussing our political leadership, is certainly optimistic when referring to his own longevity and I wish him thus.

Sixty-five, though, is an official designation, government approved and insurance company verified. It's "senior." It's "codger." It's "C&W" (canes & walkers, as in the line at K&W Cafeteria on the third of every month when the Social Security checks arrive). It's a place where somebody else lived for all these years and now it's my place.

A couple of years ago, I attended a high school class reunion and, like so many, wondered who the hell all those old people were and what was I doing right in the middle of them, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and squinting to recognize any youth I could still find, maybe in the eyes. Paul Simon, in "Old Friends," wrote, "how terribly strange to be 70." We can lower that to 65 without much of a stretch.

It is, indeed, terribly strange to look at the number, handle it, ponder it, absorb its fullness. Ugly little number, round on one end, sharp on the other. Asymmetrical. Leans to the right and rocks on the rounded bottom. That's how I walk, with these worn out knees.

I was born in the summer of 1946, just after all those horny, young soldiers came back from overseas and started getting married, moving into 1,000-square-foot houses with four bedrooms, and pumping out kids to fill the bedrooms. A lot of us--a whole lot of us--were born that summer and for about 15 summers after it, creating the largest population bulge in our history. We've been such a big, loud group for lo these many years that it's hard to ignore us and easy to tire of our constant demands.

We have not been the greatest generation, though some of us have excelled. Mostly, my group began with a marvelously creative approach to life and country: protest what is wrong until you fix it. But that soon faded as events overwhelmed us, needs of our families took control of our spare moments and the political and social landscapes changed. We did some good early, but not so much since.

The country has gotten away from us, if we ever had it. It is in the hands of a very small group of extremely insistent people (much as we were in our youth, though there were a lot more of us than there are of them) whose goals are intensely selfish and foreign to my understanding of the meaning of our country.

This is a difficult way to go out. It's like soldiers coming home from lost wars, the retiree leaving a company that has been crippled by an economy destroyed by greed and ignorance. But I remain the optimist in many things--government not being among them--and I'll cling to that optimism until somebody proves it wrong. God knows they're trying.


  1. Happy Birthday and I for one am grateful for your optimism. It paves the way for us upcoming 'fourth quadrant"-dwellers. Because of your insistent brightness, we can see behind (and beyond) the murky 21st century "Sturm und Drang". Cheers!

  2. happy bday! I have one coming up as well. hope you are well and happy! c